By on April 26, 2018

Today’s Rare Ride hails from beyond the normal reaches of even astute car enthusiasts’ knowledge base. It was the brainchild of some British executives who were convinced there was a market for the classic London Taxi in the United States. In addition to standard taxis, the company offered one that was thoroughly luxed and broughamed.

I’m just not sure.

First, the basics. The white elephant we see here is a 1986 London Coach Sterling limousine, built especially for the left-hand-drive U.S. market. The company seemed to practice the British tradition of adding the name “Sterling” to something domestic, and then selling it across the Atlantic to eager Americans.

The London Coach Company came into existence in 1984, after its British parent saw the market vacancy left by the Checker Cab Company after its 1982 closure.

The number of U.S.-spec examples built by the London Coach Company is an item of dispute. While various sources argue between 50 and 100 cars were produced, today’s listing cites 75 as the figure reported to the NHTSA.

All Sterlings were built in 1985 or ’86 by a company called Carbodies Limited in Coventry, England. The Coventry factory made complete vehicle kits that were shipped to London Coach in the United States for completion.

The Sterling was available in either standard Taxi, or a luxury Limousine version like our example. Exterior and interior components were an assortment of things London Coach purchased from a bin outside a British Leyland factory somewhere in the Midlands. What didn’t come from BL was the engine — a Ford 2.3-liter four-cylinder from a British Ford Escort (or an American Ford Pinto).

Limousine versions pulled out all the stops, as we see here. Extensive legroom and fine wood cabinetry matched with velour upholstery, cosseting passengers on their way to a Halloween party or perhaps a British-themed Midwestern hotel and spa. The driver fared less well than back seat guests, with haphazard dials and switches placed wherever room was available (his screams of dismay no doubt muted entirely by the drive-thru window behind his head).

No matter, these Sterling offerings were not to be. You see, a different Sterling name was just arriving in the North American market, one owned by Austin-Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA). The Honda-derived and British-meddled 825 and 827 were ready, and the company exerted pressure on London Coach to stop usage of the Sterling name.

It seems unlikely this request for a name change would’ve spelled the end of the company, but nevertheless, it was finished after just 75 cars. Today’s example is located in the urbane and crime-free paradise of Baltimore. With a bit of wear and 16,000 miles on the Smiths-built odometer, it asks $25,000.

[Images: seller]

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19 Comments on “Rare Rides: 1986 London Coach Sterling Limousine – Formality and Finery...”


  • avatar
    sirwired

    It’s unique, to be sure, but in my eyes that’s the only thing it has going for it. That interior looks like something you’d see tacked into a conversion van of the same vintage, nothing more.

    Nobody that sees that thing will know what it is, even if they might recognize a cab version painted black instantly.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Looks like a Throwback Thursday shout out to the Rolls Royce Cullinan. In fact, this could be the prototypical crossover. Crossed over from the UK and all brougham-ed out. Also looks like an inspiration piece for the new Mercedes Maybach SUV atrocity.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So classy but not.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    $25k? Another example of something rare that the owner thinks is also valuable.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    A limo with a Pinto engine…now that’s Sterling.

    (BTW, wasn’t there a company that tried to sell diesel London taxis here a few years back? I remember seeing one on a dealer lot.)

    • 0 avatar
      Dutcowski

      +1
      Spot that automatic shifter and pull down seats in the back for 5 passengers. That would be Sterling performance..

      I thought the London black cabs new all electric. With help from a China-based Co..?

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The 2.3L in the Pinto was imported from West Germany, only the “magnificent” 1.6L pushrod Kent engine was made in North America.

      How the hell were they able to sell a car in 1985 with a fuel cap like that ? Roll the car and that thing would go up in flames.

  • avatar
    mojeimeje

    Second photo reminds me of a very swollen up Renault 4.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Yes, a company IIRC in Sudbury, MA that offered the latest model London Taxi. I’m not sure what the motors were for the US. The Avalon Hotel near downtown Portland, Oregon used one to ferry guests to the center city. I rode in it once while I stayed in PDX, and I believe it sounded like the diesel models used in London.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Interior by Grey Poop-on.

    That dashboard is a shambles, I’d be in constant fear of it exploding.

    • 0 avatar
      operagost

      That slab of wood, sporting its philips head screws untrimmed, can’t possibly be original. It looks shoddier than the panel my dad hooked me up with when someone ripped the stereo out of my LTD and took half the center panel with it.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Apart from the smaller rear windows, I like it. Needs to be black though, of course.

  • avatar
    overdale

    Great find – interesting this version appears to have the tail lights of the MGB rather than those from the mk2 Austin 1100/1300 which were used on the British version.

    I’ve seen a few pictures of London taxis in New York yellow cab livery too but doubt it was much of a success.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The MGB tail lights probably had DOT certifications, while the Austin tail lights would have had to be certified and then separately molded for our regulations.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Sort of a fun 80’s custom throwback…until you get to the vinyl roof and the third window, which looks like a padded toilet seat.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Really do not think that they thought this through. A Pinto engine and a shifter that also looks like it came from a Pinto? A ‘wood’ cabinet in the back that looks like some kid’s shop class project. At least it has suicide doors.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      There are still people who covet other countries’ follies. The target market was well-traveled anglophiles who thought London taxis were everything refined and wonderful and counter to the filthy vulgarity of NYC taxis of the era. These were for the sort of people who think the government works wonders when it elevates everyday things to being luxuries for the wealthy and reminds the working class that they are serfs who exist at the gentry’s discretion.

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